Vanity and Bad Breath – What Your “Self Publisher” Won’t Tell You

Bad breath at parties is a bad thing.  And I know, because many years ago I used to have bad breath.  I don’t any more, for good reason – but there was a time when people backed away from me or turned their heads unexpectedly and buried their noses in their wine glasses.  It was not a good place to be.

But more of this later, because right now I want you to imagine we are somewhere else completely.  We are at a party, watching a female figure approach across the room.

See her now, coming near, this woman in her fifties with the tinted blonde wavy hair, proffering a bottle of wine as if it is some kind of magic talisman, or a piece of bait to get you hooked.  Notice the lean frame and the sharp eyes that seem, at their centre to have a vacuum, and notice that friendly enough smile.  She seems interested in a conversation… so why not?

The next few minutes are spent in prattle and intros – so how do you know x, and isn’t y lovely (notice how good she is at digging around, and notice again yet more vacancy behind those eyes) alongside calculations about property and people, and where do you live, and so on.

Then there’s the inevitable question:  And what do you do? Suppose now that she tells you that she is a publisher.  Then after a while, imagine that she tells you she is actually a “self-publisher”, which, you establish, doesn’t mean that she only publishes her own work.  You might get a feeling that she would never be quite that careless with her own money.  Nope.  She publishes books for other “selves”.

Imagine that you ask her what she publishes, and she tells you:  Oh, anything.  Anything and everything.  And if you’ve got half a brain in your head, despite the wine she has lavished on you, you might start getting a little warning bell sound.  Especially when she describes how an author approaches her with a manuscript and she makes it so easy for them.  How she organizes the printing of the book, she organizes the layout, she organizes the publicity and she organizes distribution.  Which doesn’t make her a publisher.  It makes her a high quality printing service.

So, you might ask yourself, what about the content of the book?  It’s possible that you have friends who have self-published books that were so close to being really good, but which, somewhere along the way, let themselves down.  Books that are fantastic ideas, but just needed working up.  Books, in fact that needed a judicious eye to make them sing, but which croak at times instead – or raise themselves up to sonorous heights, only to stutter and stammer at the crucial point.  Or others again that are playing a symphony of marvellous ideas, but which suddenly have a foghorn blaring right in the middle of the performance.

Perhaps she blinks now, this self publisher.  Perhaps she talks of how it isn’t her place to comment on the content.  And perhaps, as you watch her more closely, you might begin to realise that that emptiness in her eyes is the void that comes from inhabiting a world devoid of values.  The pages of whichever book she is thinking of right now, might as well be blank, you suspect.  And without values – writing values –  she can add nothing to raise any of the books she publishes to the next saleable level, either.

What business is it of mine to dictate what you find in the pages of a book? she might well ask, with a rhetorical flourish.  These authors are experts on their subjects.  I am not.

Perhaps at this point you might consider that yes, they are experts, but not necessarily on writing.  An image might swim before you as you talk to this woman, as you consider the plights of those desperate to be published at any cost.  It’s possible that you begin to think that if ever there was a duty of care towards a client, it really should exist in this world of self publishing.

What I have written above is just a daydream – a little picture to consider, as you read this little blog.  And it can fade now, as we get back to the real point:  bad breath.

One of the best things my brother did for me was, while driving me home from a party, to open the window on his side of the car.  It was a winter night many years back, icy and cold, and I asked him to close it again.  It was then that he told me: “Matt, you need to see a dentist or a doctor.  Someone who can help you. Because there is something wrong with your breath.”

I was gutted.  I cast my mind back through the preceding year and identified a definite pattern, which up to then I had been oblivious to. It was a recent problem, I realised, that had coincided with the pain I was getting from my wisdom teeth.  Pictures came up of close conversations in which people had stepped backwards, and walked away and I had felt an unidentifiable sense of rejection.  How awful!  And all it would have taken was the right word for me to have dealt with the matter months before.

Once I was told about it, I decided to sort it out.  I went to see the experts.  The dentist edited my mouth, taking out a few unnecessary bits.  He removed my wisdom teeth and life got better.  People not only liked me, they were also willing to stand near me.  My brother had done me a big favour.

Now consider this: if I had not received that great piece of advice, I might well have ended up in friendships only with people with no sense of smell.  Or, worse, if I had a bit of money to throw around, I might have been surrounded by people who did have a sense of smell, but were willing to put up with the reek to get their hands on the wonga, and secretly sniggered down their sleeves when I left.  Either of these scenarios might have made me feel good in the short-term, but the problem of being unpopular with lots of different people at parties would still have been there.

Now let’s go back to the vanity publisher we imagined.  I haven’t made a decision about her breath in my imaginary scenario.  I didn’t stand close enough to her in my imagination to find out.  But if you are going to go to someone like her, heed this one piece of advice:

Don’t think she is interested in your precious manuscript or that she thinks it has value.  That’s not her job.  For her, the only book you have on your person of any value is your chequebook.  She ain’t going to give you advice, she ain’t going to help you make your book better.  She’s not going to sidle up to you and let you know, in the nicest, most caring way, that as it stands, right now, your book stinks and needs a proper professional eye on it – and that only that way will it make new friends.  Because although she calls herself a publisher, making a profit from sales of your book ain’t her job.  So she isn’t going to care one jot of ink.

Remember: at a dentist’s, at some point you’re going to have your mouth open wide.  When you walk into a vanity publisher’s, make sure your eyes are open wide, too.

“I Bought A Long Case Clock” – A Sonnet

A couple of years ago I got thinking about the grandfather clock I had picked up at an auction for not too much money.  It was a beautiful thing; built around 1820, slender and delicate, with the most gentle sound of a bell, like a ghost of time, marking out the hours.  It got me thinking about time and how it holds the universe together, and in that daydream I had the idea for this sonnet.  I hope you like it.

PS: I still don’t think I’ve got the final line right, so am working on it!

I Bought A Long Case Clock

I bought a long case clock, whose motive weight

through wheels, escapement, pendulum and gears

spins time with gravity. Now contemplate

how Time has Weight to mark our passing years;

how gravity’s a mystery whose effects

are seen in Heaven’s Movement and the Tide –

revealed by bending starlight, it directs

unseen: forever present, yet implied;

how Time’s the precondition for the chain

of causes linking future, present, past;

and how this impulse secretly sustains

our World: it was the first, it will be last.

All this my clock provokes: how this machine

the Infinite implies…

…and hands unseen

Copyright (c) 2010 Matthew Wingett in all media

Evidence For The Existence of Ghosts, Version 2

So, this is the rewrite of the poem I wrote a few days ago.  I have attempted to tidy up the meaning and improve the metre.  Have had to lose a rhetorical flourish for the sake of clarity, but I think that is no bad thing.  Would love to know what you think.  Cheers!


Ghosts!? You think a corpse can emanate

across The Void (so empty, dark and wide)

a spectre of past life?  Disincarnate?

And why?  To act an omen?  Be our guide?

Really! No distant world beyond can light

the soulless night – bend nature’s laws – and send

a messenger!   This lonely truth is right:

Not one thing lasts beyond its natural end.”

I held my tongue.  I could have answered back,

except – a thousand, watchful, pallid eyes

hushed me, glinting from the silent black.

Standing still beneath those star-filled skies

I knew that for each present long-dead sun

I need not speak: Their argument was won.

Copyright (c) Matthew Wingett, 2010

Evidence For The Existence Of Ghosts

So, this is the first draft of a sonnet that I wrote last night.  It came out of an idea I had while reading a book on cosmology.  Wonder what you think?  It’s the first draft only, so I may fiddle with it later.  I have called it: 


Evidence for the existence of ghosts

“Ghosts!?  You think a corpse can radiate

across The Void (so wide and dark)

a spectre of what’s past?  Disincarnate?

And why?  To send an omen?  Make dogs bark?

Really!  No ghoulish world beyond can light

the soulless dark, bewilder nature’s laws, extend

beyond the grave.  This lonely truth is right:

Not one thing lasts beyond its natural end.”

I held my tongue.  I could have spoken back,

except those long-dead shades whose pallid eyes

that glimmered hushed me from the silent black.

Standing still beneath those star-filled skies

I knew that for those present-long-dead suns

I need not speak.  Their argument was won.


Copyright (c) Matthew Wingett, 2010, in all media

My New Word – “Synecdoche”

Okay, so I’ve got to share this with you because I think it’s one of those unusual words that I didn’t know existed. I was just reading Seamus Heaney’s notes on the Anglo-Saxon poem, “Beowulf”, and this really unusual word jumped off the page.  When I find new words I get as excited as an amateur naturalist finding a new species of beetle.  Here it is:


It’s pronounced to rhyme with “select a key” – so: “Si NECKED a key”, with the stress on the second syllable.

The context it was in was to describe the Old English word “ecg”, as used by the Anglo-Saxons.  It is pronounced “edge” – and interestingly enough, means “edge” – as in the edge of a blade.

Now, here’s the thing.  In Anglo-Saxon writing, the word “ecg” doesn’t only mean the edge of something.  It stands for far more – because it can also means “sword”.  What happens is that the part of the object referred to gets to stand for the whole thing.  So, “ecg” by transference, also means “sword”.

That’s synecdoche.

You’ll hear synecdoche all the time in modern English, where the part stands for the whole.

For example:  “Here comes Big Mouth,” is a good example, although in this case, you could argue that the part stands for the hole.  Another example would be: “Who’s the suit?”

And it’s not only used this way.  It can also be used the other way round, where the whole stands for the part.  “The street was jumping for joy” doesn’t normally mean that houses, lamp posts and gardens were involved in uplifting athletic activity.  Just the people, normally.

Another form of synecdoche happens when you talk about the container of something when you mean its contents.  For example, when you say: “I’m just going to boil the kettle”, you don’t actually mean that you are going to get a kettle, put it in some form of crucible and watch it first melt and then bubble off as kettle vapour.   Nope, as far as I understand it, you are going to boil the water in the kettle.  And when you say “Do you take plastic?”, it doesn’t mean you can pay for your goods in empty milk cartons.

Then there are the words in which you use a specific class name to refer to a single thing.  I’m not sure, but I think the annoying habit of a friend of mine to refer to all women as a “Doris” might fall into this category. “I was out with this Doris the other day, and…”  He’s a nice looking boy, and the only Doris I knew of was an elderly lady with a blue rinse with a penchant for knitting.  When he tells me this, I see him in my mind with his hairy chest and open-necked shirt in a swanky bar, seducing a woman in pink carpet slippers and 1950s glasses, who will take her teeth out and put them in a jar at the side of his bed, before the evening is out.  Which pleases me no end.

Finally, there’s the version of synecdoche which is a general class name that refers to a individual items.  To be honest, this one I don’t really get.  With “Prepare to abandon ship”, for example, it’s pretty obvious that it means the ship you’re on.  You know, the one that’s sinking.  Besides, abandoning someone else’s ship means getting on to it in the first place.  Which I suspect would be counter-productive.  I think that’s a form of synecdoche, but I’m not sure.  Synecdoche is, after all a new word for me, so I am sure there is much more to learn about it.  What I know is just the tip of the iceberg.

So, if anyone can shed a bit of light on that final class of synecdoche, I will be most pleased.

In fact, to be synecdochetic about it, I will be all smiles.


The Woman Inside Of Me

When I was 23 years old I had the strangest dream. I remember it vividly even now, nearly 20 years on.

I was living in a cottage on the Isle of Arran, off the West Coast of Scotland, where I had taken myself to write a book. The cottage was a whitewashed old place on a farm, with walls made of two layers of local stone, with rammed earth between to keep the wind out. In order to open the windows in the thick walls, I had to stretch deep into the window alcove, nearly bending double to do so. Being so thick, the walls also kept out the sound of the outside. It was a silent space.

Upstairs, the bedroom had a wooden ceiling following the angles of the roof. At night, the window looked out on to dark, brooding fields, and a sky filled with bright stars. The full moon would cycle round once a month, shining a milky light on to my bed, with me in it.

I slept deeply in that room. The soughing of the wind in the gables was the only sound, except sometimes I would hear the scratching of a mouse scurrying up over the roof.

I was a sensitive soul, and I had gone up there partially to write a novel, and partially to be cured of a broken heart. I was a romantic wanderer, I suppose.

One night, I was lying deep, deep in sleep in this silent place. As I slept, I dreamt that the spirit of a woman came to me. She was a strange creature, with a face as white as moonlight. She wore a winding sheet – or if not that – then a floating white cotton night dress. Her face was cold and she looked at me with a definite intent, though to do what I could not be sure. Her hair was blonde – not white blonde – but the colour of ripe straw. If I were to say that she was anything, then she seemed like a goddess of the wheat. And I don’t mean that she was a spirit from a bottle of fermented barley.

A Spirit Hovered Above Me

She floated closer, hovering over me, and I could feel her cold breath on me. I realised that she was going to float down and smother me. And it was then that I woke up with a short, sharp gasp, staring into the night.

And as I looked, she was still there in front of my eyes, lowering herself towards me.

I found that I could not move, and as she came closer, I tried so hard to cry out. But somehow I was held in a helpless trance, unable to move and unable to scream. I was shaking with fear. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as her body and face pushed closer. I knew something terrible was going to happen.

And then, her body touched mine. And she continued to sink down until she completely disappeared inside of me.

As she did so, I felt a huge wave of resignation and relief wash through me. I had a feeling as if of an unwinding of a massive tense spring in my stomach, and I suddenly felt grateful and happy for her presence.

She has stayed with me, inside of me for years now. There are times when I feel that I have lost her. But she comes back when the time is right. When I am in contact with her, I feel at my most confident. I am able to organise my thoughts, and I am able to write coherently and from the heart.

I have no idea who she is, except that she is me.

Dreams are the strangest things. I do not know what that dream was, nor do I want to know, but thanks to that dream I am more comfortable in my skin than I ever was before. That dream marks the time when I stopped being a boy and I became a man. It is also the time from which I count my life as a writer.

All of this, thanks to the woman inside of me.

No Matter How Bad An Idea…

A friend of mine some time ago told me about an event being held in London called “Cringe”. The idea behind the event was that when we were teenagers we wrote some pretty cringeworthy entries in our diaries that these days we would these days be really be ashamed of – and it wouldn’t be great to share that “cringey” moment with others?

As a writer (and, what’s more, a writer who filled his diaries obsessively in his teens and twenties) my friend was convinced that there must surely be stuff now that I would love to laugh about with other people.

My answer was and is now: nope, surely not. And there’s a damn good reason for it.

It’s all about what you think you are. And whether you still believe that you are a writer capable of holding grand visions. Because no matter how laughable some of the things that I said once when I was younger, no matter what daft ideas I jotted down, I know for sure that there was a spirit of something akin to inspiration moving me to write it. That somewhere, in my addled teenage brain, there was a groping towards something bigger than myself. That somewhere, I was reaching out for the sublime.

So, to stand here as an adult and laugh at myself as a child is, in some way, to mock my own aspirations to be a writer. I may have been misguided. I may have been wrong. But I was trying stuff out. I wouldn’t laugh at the efforts of my neighbour’s teenage kids in trying to express themselves. In fact, I would encourage them the very best that I could. So why on Earth would it be okay to denigrate my own attempts to write when I was a teenager? It’s not. It’s disrespectful.

But it isn’t only disrespectful. It’s also, in my eyes, defeatist. To laugh at what I wrote back then is actually to say: “Ah, well, that’s from back when I wanted to be a writer, you know. Thank goodness those days are over and I’ve grown out of it. I’ll be a section manager in a call centre instead.” And I’m sorry, I just haven’t got to that level of defeat just yet – nor do I intend to get there, ever. I still hold the goal of getting published in my eye, and the sacred flame of creativity in my heart. And what’s more I still write sentences like that last one, 25 years on. And damn good job too. Because for every 20 or 30 crap ideas, there’s a good one. And those old diaries of mine, they are a seam that I’ll work. Oh yes, for years to come.

And that’s the big reason why I, as someone who still sees himself as a writer, and still believes I have plenty more good stuff to come from this brain through these fingers, couldn’t possibly stand and mock the angry, naive, defenceless teenager that I was back then. Because in amongst all of that struggling, there is something valuable. An honesty. And a foolishness. And a drive.

And you know what? I reckon, if you’re going to be creative, none of those things is worthy of mocking.